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"Souvenir Hunting is Still a Problem" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report discouraging souvenir collection before material can be analyzed for intelligence information, from the Intelligence Bulletin, June 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]


Souvenir hunting in combat zones continues to be a matter requiring caution. It is perhaps hard for some men to realize that a scrap of paper or a small metal plate with a few words in a foreign language on it can be of great ultimate significance in analyzing the military and economic resources of the enemy.[1,2]

Because of the activities of souvenir hunters during operations on more than one Pacific island, much material of known and probable value was carried away, and almost all enemy documents, personal papers, weapons, and equipment were so rummaged through and scattered about that their eventual salvage was either unnecessarily delayed or rendered impossible. Souvenir hunting was not confined to any one unit or group, but was undertaken by construction battalions, defense forces, and ship's crews—personnel who came ashore after the assault phase had been completed. Not that there had been any lag between the assault and the beginning of the souvenir hunting. Even by mid-afternoon of the first day, considerable damage had been done, for houses, stores, and barracks had been stripped almost as fast as they had been taken.

As experienced observers have pointed out, every effort must be made, through training, indoctrination, and briefing immediately before an operation, to minimize indiscriminate souvenir hunting and to insure the utmost cooperation between troops and construction units on one hand and intelligence personnel on the other.

At present there is a vital need for every available name plate from enemy materiel of every description. It is essential that, whenever possible, the name plate be left on the captured equipment to which it pertains. In recent weeks an increasing number of loose name plates have been confiscated from the mails by censors. Although it is a War Department policy that military personnel be treated as generously as possible when they request permission to retain souvenirs, it is obvious that items of intelligence value must be held for examination by the proper authorities. Experience has shown again and again that the most trivial-looking items can reveal desperately needed information concerning the enemy.

Sometimes it has proved advisable to post guards over captured command posts, radio stations, supply dumps, and so on, so that documents and materiel can be examined thoroughly without having been subjected to previous handling and the resulting damage and loss.

The responsibility for turning in for examination any random documents or pieces of equipment found by military personnel of course rests directly with the officers in charge of the various units involved in an operation.

The brighter side of the picture—and there very definitely is a brighter side—is illustrated by the following statement by a high-ranking U.S. officer who fought the Japanese on Rendova:

"If handled properly, souvenir collecting pays dividends; if not, it hurts morale and ruins an excellent source of information. Our rule was that a soldier could keep a souvenir if he were given clearance by his company commander, the Intelligence officer, and the Ordnance officer. The men cooperated wonderfully, and it was through 'souvenirs' brought in by collectors that we knew, two hours after we reached Rendova, the enemy's strength and disposition of troops over the previous two months' period."


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